China's car sales boom, reshaping a way of life

Despite such efforts, it could be years before Chinese cars overtake Western models, says Zhong, the auto analyst. "Right now, everybody usually buys Chinese cars not for quality, exterior or prestige, but only because the price is cheap," he says.

Cheap or expensive, the market for cars in China appears vast. Dunne, the J.D. Power analyst, says more than 85% of the adult population still does not own a car. It's still too expensive, but cities such as Shanghai are preparing for an onslaught, building new ring roads and avenues to handle the traffic.

Patrick Zhou, 25, says the possibilities are endless. He's a sales assistant for BYD (Build Your Dreams), an auto and battery company partly owned by Warren Buffett that is trying to break into the hybrid car market here. "In the U.S., the focus of companies is on how to save themselves," Zhou says. "Here in China, the market is great!"

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